Alipurduar (West Bengal): On the route to the hills of Bhutan and two kilometers away from the bank of Jayanti river is the village of Bhutia Basti, which was settled during the British period.
Villagers here are facing several issues and claim complete administrative neglect, but this has not deterred them from casting votes year after year. Locals say voting is their right while reaffirming their hopes in democracy. At present only 33 families comprising of 107 people lead their lives here, where over 800 people used to live at one point in time, before a significant number of them moved to Hatipota, Patpara, and Nimoti range. Most residents from here used to work in Dolomite mine firming till Buxa was named a Tiger Reserve.
The villagers here suffer from an acute scarcity of drinking water and zero health care facilities. However, the fear of wild animals remains their biggest problem. “We are casting our vote, MPs and MLAs are getting elected because of us and yet we remain in the same worst condition since time immemorial,” said 54-year-old Arjun Chhetri.
Another resident Golfle Majhi said, “Wild animals use our village as a corridor. A week ago a woman was killed by an elephant near Jayanti river. In such a situation how can we dare send our children to school? Nothing changes here before or after the election.” Children have to cross Jayanti river bed to go to Jayanti Primary and High School which becomes impossible during winter. The village had a government-run school till 2006 which was subsequently closed.
“We cannot even plant vegetation here, the wild animals will destroy it,” said Munni Kujur, another resident of Bhutia Basti. Since 1993, after floods destroyed villages on the bank of river Jayanti, Bhutia Basti became isolated and neglected. Villagers claim that no one from the administration has asked about their well being since ages. The one time someone from the administration visited the area, the locals said, was to ask about their headcount for voting.
“We are in great difficulty and somehow living. After elections, no one receives our call. But also we do not vote to get anything in return, we vote because it is our right,” said a local. The Lok Sabha polls for the 42 seats of West Bengal will be held in all the seven phases from April 11 to May 19. The results will be announced on May 23.